Battle of the Centrists vs the Conservatives Takes Center Stage in Hawaii GOP Battle; Round 2 Goes to the Centrists

GOP Chairman Jonah Ka'auwai
GOP Chairman Jonah Ka'auwai
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GOP Chairman Jonah Ka'auwai
GOP Chairman Jonah Ka'auwai

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – Jonah-Kuhio Kalanianaole Kaauwai ‘s decision to resign as chair of the Hawaii Republican Party yesterday is a victory for former Gov. Linda Lingle, and her followers, but not necessarily for local conservatives.

Lingle, National Party chairwoman Miriam Hellreich, former Congressman Charles Djou and former heads of the Hawaii GOP including Brennon Morioka had mounted a campaign over the last several months to have Ka’auwai replaced.


They asked supporters to give money to the “burn the mortgage’ campaign at the GOP headquarters – and even held a successful $150 per plate fundraiser in August attracting hundreds of Republicans to a concert with Country Singer Lee Greenwood – but the money went to pay off the mortgage at the Honolulu-based headquarters, not to candidates or operations.

They also put pressure on Ka’auwai through the National Republican headquarters to resign. Lingle has plans to run for U.S. Senate in 2012 to fill the seat that will be left open by U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka, and she has influence nationally with her party headquarters. That was evident when Lingle took center stage at the 2008 National Republican Convention when she introduced then Gov. Sarah Palin as the vice presidential candidate for the McCain/Palin ticket.

With lobbying by the GOP’s own leaders against Ka’auwai, the local GOP party, which is considerably smaller than the Democratic Party of Hawaii, quickly lost support from traditional big donors who backed Lingle and Djou in past campaigns, though new, smaller conservative donors were coming on board.

The local party was left with essentially no employees – Ka’auwai is a volunteer – and no money for what was inside the building they were funding such as programs or operation.

Some political analysts claim the fight was over Ka’auwai’s success rate at getting candidates elected. But insiders challenge that claim and paint a much different picture.

The battle was over political philosophy – mainly how fiscally and socially conservative should the party be?

At the May GOP convention, conservatives, who dominated the event attendance, voted for a number of resolutions that embarrassed so called “centrists” like Djou and Lingle.

  • That included a resolution against all tax and fee increases (Lingle has voted for both in the past);
  • A resolution against the Akaka bill, which is federal legislation seeking sovereignty for native Hawaiians (Lingle and Djou have both lobbied for this bill);
  • A resolution against the Jones Act, a federal shipping law that restrict competition (Lingle has not openly opposed this legislation, which many conservatives say increases the cost of living here as much as 30 percent);
  • And a resolution against the city’s proposed $5.3 billion rail project, which the governor helped get passed and Djou is now supporting.

Ka’auwai also is openly Christian, and socially conservative, which distressed some members who were not either. He also was happy to discuss how proud he was to be a Republican and a supporter of the Tea Party – this at a time when some Hawaii GOP candidates are distancing themselves from being labeled as a Republican and affiliated with the Tea Party.

Beth Fukumoto, who is first vice chairman, has temporarily replaced Ka’auwai.

She works at the Hawaii State Legislature for the House Minority Republicans.

All eight House Republicans supported a confidential letter to party members sent last week to ask Ka’auwai to resign.

They had set up an October 15 meeting to have him removed.

There is little doubt that Fukumoto’s alliance will be to the Lingle faction, which includes her boss, House Minority Leader Gene Ward.

Ironically, Ward several years ago, was on the outs with party leadership for being too socially conservative and religious, but now he is siding against Ka’auwai who is accused of this very position.

Declining to sign the letter was Senate minority leader Sam Slom, the only Republican in the 25-member Hawaii State Senate.

The so called “centrists” – as Lingle and Djou are now calling themselves – could have voted Ka’auwai out at the last convention, but they didn’t even have a candidate to replace him and they didn’t have the votes. He was elected to a second four-year term in May 2011.

Conservative Radio Talk Show Host Rick Hamada, of 830 AM KHVH News Radio, on his morning show today, compared heading the GOP as becoming captain of the Titanic – only the chairman of the GOP is unpaid.

He also expressed doubt that the campaign was launched against Ka’auwai because of his track record in getting Republicans elected to office. Since 1998, under a variety of different chairs, the number of Republicans in the legislature dropped from 20 of 51 in the House to 8 of 51 and from 5 of 25 in the Senate to 1.

Many Republicans who supported Ka’auwai say they are tired of the constant infighting in the party for what amounts to so little power for the Republicans.

While Ka’auwai did not want to talk about his resignation yesterday, he has come on Hawaii Reporter’s News Behind the Newstelevision talk show before.

During those interviews, has discussed at length the change in the party’s philosophical direction under his leadership to a values-based party with a simple mission, which is: “As the party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and Hawaii’s own Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana’ole, Hawaii Republicans seek to unite people around a set of commonly held ideals and not divide them according to their differences. Our vision is to perpetuate the beauty, people and culture of Hawaii by applying the L.L.I.F.E. values of: Liberty; Limited Government; Individual Responsibility; Fiscal Accountability and Equality of Opportunity. We aim to elect Republicans to all offices across the state and, in doing so, restore balance in Hawaii’s political system. E Komo Mai!”

On Facebook, Ka’auwai wrote to his friends saying: “Aloha ‘Ohana, My focus still remains on what really matters, the future of our keiki and their keiki. Our vision and hope must be centered on ensuring that in one, two, three generations our keiki will be better off than where they are today. It is our kulena and our destiny. We are only limited by the level of our own hope. My hope for my keiki and their keiki is endless. We must not rest until the task is completed. May God bless our efforts, our State and our Country.”

While Ka’auwai leaves behind a political party is broke and in disarray, this is likely not the last the Hawaii GOP sees of Ka’auwai.

He reportedly is launching a campaign for Congress in District 2. Currently, there are no well known Republicans vying for that open House seat.

Democrats seeking that position include former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and Honolulu City Council Member Tusli Gabbard.